At the SMX Advanced conference in Seattle this week, Google's Matt Cutts revealed that Google has implemented two changes that may have an impact on your SEO efforts.

The first one has to do with the way Google deals with PageRank sculpting and the second has to do with Google's following of JavaScript links.

Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land has an excellent detailed explanation that's well worth a read if you've been PageRank sculpting or using JavaScript to mask paid links but here's the short version.

PageRank Sculpting

In case you're not familiar with it, PageRank sculpting is quite simply the 'blocking' of links (eg. using nofollow) to 'sculpt' how much PageRank gets passed on. Using the concept of PageRank as money for an oversimplified example, let's say you have a page with 10 PageRank dollars that it can pass on to other sites and this page includes 10 links. The idea with PageRank sculpting is that you could nofollow 5 of those links to pass on 2 PageRank dollars to each of the 5 unblocked links instead of passing on 1 PageRank dollar to all 10 of the links.

Some webmasters have reported good results using this technique.

But according to Matt Cutts, it doesn't work this way. Sullivan explains:

Again — and being really simplistic here — if you have $10 in authority to spend on those ten links, and you block 5 of them, the other 5 aren’t going to get $2 each. They’re still getting $1. It’s just that the other $5 you thought you were saving is now going to waste.

Of course Sullivan notes that some of the theory around PageRank sculpting has been oversimplified from the beginning. As he puts it, "Google itself largely acts as the page’s investment banker" and has likely always looked at a variety of factors in determining how PageRank is passed on.

The long and short of it is that PageRank sculpting was a technique employed by a relatively small number of people and this change shouldn't have any real dramatic impact on those who weren't using it. It does, however, serve as a good example of just how quickly a Google change can destroy lots of effort. Those who were engaged in PageRank sculpting will need to await further details to figure out what, if any, action should be taken next.

JavaScript Links

Google doesn't like paid links so one of the ways some have dealt with this was to use JavaScript's onClick event to 'hide' these links from Google. It was a decent solution: Google wasn't following these links anyway and most users have JavaScript enabled.

But now that Google is following these links, the use of JavaScript isn't a foolproof method for avoiding Google's ire when it comes to paid links. According to Cutts, Google isn't going to be doling out any penalties but as Sullivan advises:

...if you’re selling paid links and thought JavaScript was protecting you, I would fairly quickly ensure that redirects are blocked by using nofollow within the JavaScript itself or by going through a robots.txt block.

Or you could just give in and go the nofollow route.

Photo credit: Mykl Roventine via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 4 June, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)



Hey Patricio,

Thanks for letting us know about these two changes in Google. Yes, it seems google is optimizing page rank algorithm. Glad to know that it's following javascript links. Hope, in coming future google loves javascript without any difficulties.



about 9 years ago


Mihai Secasiu

I don't get it.

I thought the whole point of selling links was for the advertiser to get link "juice" out of it. If you're using javascript to send the user to the actual link that means the actuall href attribute is not set so no juice is sent to the advertiser anyway, so why does google care about this ? 

Am I missing something ?

about 9 years ago


Mihai Secasiu

Ok I think I got answer myself:)

I guess it means that now that they are following javascript links they are going to pass page rank too if there is no rel="nofollow" set for links.

I still don't understand why would anyone use javascript links and not rel="nofollow" in the past since the result was the same ...

about 9 years ago


Michael Martinez

The buying and selling of links is a widely accepted practice that predates Google's existence.  In recent years Google has been trying to discourage the practice because they lately came to the realization that it does have an affect on their search results.

The fact that the people at Google didn't understand how the Web works when they started their search engine doesn't mean that people should not be buying and selling links.  It just means that Google is playing catchup with reality.

Googler Matt Cutts has occasionaly tried to imply that the Federal Trade Commission discourages "undisclosed" link selling but that is not the case.  The Federal Trade Commission is only concerned with undisclosed endorsements and the United States Government has declared on all its Web sites that links are not endorsements -- hence, there is no legal support for Google's ridiculous contention that links constitute votes or endorsements.

In fact links in no way confer or communicate sentiment.  They may be used as part of endorsing statements, ridicule, or in completely neutral ways.

Google has asked people to "disclose" paid links by using the "rel='nofollow'" attribute, but the attribute in no way discloses anything about the nature of links.  In fact, Google itself refrains from complete, full, and honest disclosure in its own search results.

If you have heard of the Supplemental Index, then you may know that Google stopped disclosing which pages were in the index almost two years ago.  Since then the index has continued to stand between many authoritative pages and the top of the search results.  That is, if the most relevant document for a query is in Google's Supplemental Index, less relevant documents will appear above it in the search results.

Google's efforts to mislead consumers about the status of their Web pages and the content they are searching for are a far more serious matter than the buying and selling of links.

about 9 years ago

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